There's something about WrestleMania season that is unlike any other time of the year on the WWE calendar. From the time the Royal Rumble pay-per-view kicks off through the first week of April, the men and women who are destined to steal the spotlight on the biggest WWE show of the year step their game up and bring an energy that radiates from the screen.
Truth be told, everything seems to have clicked in a little more quickly on SmackDown than on Raw in recent weeks. That's evident in the latest ESPN WWE Power Rankings, as seven of the WWE superstars who make up this top 10 are SmackDown superstars, although reigning No. 1 Becky Lynch appears to be Raw-bound in the long term. Seth Rollins and Ronda Rousey are among the top three for a reason, though, and their performances at the Royal Rumble and in subsequent weeks have helped balance out some otherwise inconsistent shows.
While Lynch's work has been undeniable since last summer, and it's little surprise that she remains firmly in the No. 1 position, there's also no denying Daniel Bryan, who is in the midst of some of the best work of his career. From introducing a new, environmentally neutral WWE championship made of hemp and reclaimed wood, to spouting radical truths mixed with hypocrisy and holier-than-thou rhetoric, Bryan has settled into a personality that offers a wide berth of possibilities that could help carry SmackDown through the rest of 2019 and beyond.
But the most telling sign in this edition of the WWE Power Rankings is what this list looks like as you dig deeper into the top 10. Andrade and Mustafa Ali have made the most of new opportunities to step forward on SmackDown, and as they step into the biggest matches and opportunities of their careers at Elimination Chamber, their upward trajectories project as major positives on SmackDown as the coming months shake out.
There are eight weeks of Raw and SmackDown to go before WrestleMania, plus two pay-per-view events, and the future looks bright. As of this moment, there's no sign of The Undertaker or John Cena. With the matches we already know of for WrestleMania and the potential for what could be on the horizon, the WWE feels fresh and exciting. A lot can change over the next two months, but in this moment, it feels as though a much-needed move toward the present and future stars of WWE is upon us. -- Tim Fiorvanti
The ESPN WWE Power Rankings are determined by a panel of seven contributors and are based on each wrestler's perceived value to the on-screen product of WWE.
The Man, fresh off her Royal Rumble victory, is the focal point of WWE programming heading into WrestleMania. Becky Lynch has kicked off Raw and SmackDown since winning the Rumble, and she has appeared on both shows over the last two weeks despite her knee injury. Her stare down with Triple H was the high point of WWE television for this past week. We all know where this is heading -- Becky Lynch vs. Rounda Rousey in the main event of WrestleMania. That's right where they belong after several heated encounters that have brought the best out of both opponents. Just listen to the crowd when Lynch and Rousey are in the ring -- that's the sound of a WrestleMania main event. -- Michael Wonsover
Though Bryan might not be leaving much of a carbon footprint these days, he's making quite the mark as the WWE champion. The addition of Rowan by his side is brilliant, and if anything it likely guarantees a much longer for run for Bryan as champ. From his new environmentally conscious title belt to his weekly diatribes against anyone and everyone who gets in his way, Bryan rolls into the Elimination Chamber on a massive wave of momentum. -- Matt Wilansky
Even as someone who already has multiple world title reigns and high-profile main events under his belt, Rollins could well be heading into the most important match of his WWE career. He's representing the frustrated fan, who wants to see a grinder with a high workrate be rewarded with a title that Brock Lesnar has left in absentia. -- Matt Willis
Listen, Ronda Rousey may really just be the greatest thing that ever happened to Becky Lynch -- and she told us just that earlier this week. The setup for these two is perfect. You have the international superstar and the woman -- err, "The Man" -- who is going to be an international superstar after WrestleMania. Ronda's wrestling evolution has been fun to watch and her promos are catching up. This is fun, and the ride to WrestleMania is going to showcase exactly what the WWE envisioned for Rousey when they signed her. -- Andrew Feldman
Despite how big of a part he's played in recent years, the WWE (and SmackDown in particular) has enough compelling narratives at the moment that Styles has not been the centerpiece of any storylines, despite maintaining his place in the title mix. Styles could walk out of Elimination Chamber as the champ again, but the truth is, he is in need of a shakeup. Perhaps a move to Raw after WrestleMania? -- Wilansky
To say that Andrade's future is bright would be a massive understatement. We knew that throughout his NXT run. The spotlight on SmackDown is an entirely different level, however, and a lot more people have had a chance to see just how dynamic Andrade is in the ring over the last few months. His matches with Rey Mysterio over the past few weeks have been classics, and we're just scratching the surface. -- Sean Coyle
Samoa Joe's intensity never relents. He didn't have to lay a finger on anyone to annihilate his five opponents for Elimination Chamber when he faced them in the ring on SmackDown two weeks ago. He interrupted Jeff Hardy, telling him to "act like it's an AA meeting and shut your mouth while I'm sharing with the group." He then looked to AJ Styles and said, "how's our old girl Wendy doing?" Brutal stuff, and then when he turns on the physicality, it reaches a different level entirely. Joe reaches a level of realism and intensity on the mic that few others can match. He deserves a marquee match at WrestleMania, something circumstances have prevented him from having in the past. -- Wonsover
Lynch and Rousey are making the headlines, but Charlotte Flair has started to seem like an integral part of the story going forward. Could Flair be a sacrificial lamb in a three-way bout, so that neither Lynch nor Rousey have to take a pinfall at WrestleMania? Perhaps, but no matter how things shake out at WrestleMania, it doesn't feel right moving forward without both Rousey and Flair as foils for Lynch. -- Willis
One of the toughest feats in wrestling is putting together a believable David vs. Goliath match. Balor did this with seeming ease against Brock Lesnar at the Royal Rumble -- and actually had fans thinking that he might pull off the upset against The Beast Incarnate. It's one of many talents Balor brings to the table, and it is why he should be highly featured in the run up to WrestleMania. -- KC Joyner
For more than two years, Mustafa Ali had tremendous matches on 205 Live with the likes of Buddy Murphy, Cedric Alexander and Hideo Itami. The platform wasn't always very big, but every time there was a chance to shine at a pay-per-view or in a high-profile position, Ali stepped up. Ali was set apart by putting his character on display with a series of DIY promos, which garnered a lot of attention and eventually earned him a move to SmackDown. He hasn't felt remotely out of place in matches against Daniel Bryan, Andrade, Samoa Joe or Randy Orton, and Ali also enjoyed a standout performance in his Royal Rumble match debut. His journey to a spot in the Elimination Chamber WWE championship match is staggering, but there's little doubt that Ali has made the most of every opportunity presented to him. -- Fiorvanti